KTRU Makes Magnificent South Asian Percussion Accessible to All


Houston’s talent showcased at the Rice radio concert “Fantasy of Exotic Drums – Tala Mahotsav”

By Ethan Hasiuk

HOUSTON: KTRU Rice Radio hosted “Fantasy of Exotic Drums – Tala Mahotsav” on September 24, on the Rice University campus, bringing an astonishingly comprehensive array of percussion instruments and playing styles with South Asian origins to a diverse group of Houstonians, many of whom were experiencing this art form for the first time.

It was Varsha Vakil – the host of KTRU’s South Asian music show “Navrang” vision and diligence of a free percussion event as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of KTRU and the 24th anniversary of Navrang. The Tala Mahotsav began with Ganesha vandana with Ajay Subramanian on mridangam accompanied by Neethi Nayak’s vocals.

Varsha congenially thanked concert attendees, the participating artists, and her sponsors for their support to make this event possible.  The event commenced with young ISKCON Houston artists drumming down the aisle that featured mridangam in an ensemble setting. Continuing with the cadenced drumming was the distinguished Chenda Melam presentation by the Panchari Arts Forum.

Concert attendee Dr. Stephen Long shares “Varsha Vakil who organized this event, was radiant. Decked out in Indian costume she introduced the performers, naming each as though they were close acquaintances.” Dr. Long added “then a band of drummers, entering the hall, brought the audience to full attention. All of the subsequent performers, including vocalists, were outstanding.”


Guests of Honor,from left: Mahtab Nadalian, Prof. Karim Al-Zand, Ali Tarkesh, Varsha Vakil, SPIKE, Krishna Sharma, Saugat Aryal and Sunit Pradhan

Raja Banga well-known for his par excellence tabla performances set the stage for his multigenerational Essence of Prana Ensemble. This ensemble was a blissful amalgamation of Western and Indian instruments including tabla, harmonium, cajon, and violin along with melodious vocals.

Varsha invited the guests of honor on stage – Rice University Shepherd School of Music Associate Professor Karim Al-Zand and avant-garde musician SPIKE the Percussionist. Al-Zand recalled childhood experiences and shared gratitude to recreate those memories at the concert.

Varsha briefed the audience on the ancient percussive dumru to explain a colorful presentation by Yogina Patel and Masterij. Breaking norms of male dominated percussionists, Jasmeeta Singh represented women artists at this event accompanied with the inspiring Justin Lasiewicz. They enchanted the audience with their solo tabla pieces and an endearing duet.

The Tala Mahotsav journey continued with the Persian music influence of the Daf by Ali Tarkesh Esfahani and Mahtab Nadalian’s santoor resembling fire and ice. Saugat Aryal, Krishna Sharma, and Sunit Prdhan presented fusion piece, combining guitar with Nepali folk and madol.

Finally, the majestic Dholi Toki Singh filled the Grand Hall with the rhythms of the dhol creating awe amongst the audience motivating them to dance to the beats. An enthusiast Martin Chin informed “this is to the heart’s fulfillment; I truly enjoyed every minute of this concert, and can’t wait for the next one!” Jyoti Patel chimed “This concert was a unique experience not only for non-Indians but also for Indians, I applaud Varsha’s brilliant concept and her hard work, she is a trendsetter in the community to bring outstanding music concerts and that too for free.”

Varsha encourages interested local artists to contact her through KTRU@ktru.org. Navrang show airs on Saturday from 10-12pm, on 96.1 FM on apps and online at ktru.org